Mayor’s misstep on marriage pledge shows how far we’ve come

Laura Miller, who became LGBT icon, opposed gay unions during 1st campaign 10 years ago

David-Webb

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The signing of a pledge in support of same-sex marriage by some 80 mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ recent meeting in Washington, D.C, represents a powerful, almost astounding stride in the LGBT community’s march to equality.

Only one big-city mayor created a controversy by refusing to sign the pledge, and that unfortunately was Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who probably regrets the decision now.

His decision not to sign the pledge — even though he later claimed he personally supports marriage equality — set off a bone-jolting controversy in Dallas as LGBT activists reacted to the news.

Rawlings cancelled a planned appearance at a neighborhood meeting because of activists’ plans to demonstrate against him, and all of the city’s newspapers and television stations began covering the story. The Dallas Morning News, which is infamous for its conservative takes on many progressive measures, praised Rawlings for resisting pressure to sign the pledge.

As a result of Rawlings thwarting activists’ plans to confront him at the neighborhood meeting, GetEQUAL scheduled a “Sign the Pledge” rally at City Hall.

There was a time when LGBT activists would have given the mayor a pass on the marriage equality issue, but that has long since passed. In declining to sign the pledge, Rawlings used the excuse that he was practicing a policy of avoiding social issues unrelated to city government.

That excuse had previously worked for former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller when she chose not to address the issue of marriage equality. At the same time, she managed to achieve something close to sainthood in the eyes of Dallas’ LGBT community because of her support of a nondiscrimination ordinance addressing sexual orientation and gender identity passed in 2002.

When Miller first campaigned for mayor she and all of her opponents declared in a candidate’s forum that they opposed same-sex marriage, but they all declared support for the nondiscrimination ordinance. That apparently was enough at the time to gain the trust and support of LGBT activists, especially after it was learned she had a gay uncle and a lesbian stepsister she loved and supported.

Miller, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2007, later gave more support to the LGBT community’s pursuit of marriage equality by speaking out against Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2005. She also began supporting marriage equality during her speeches at Dallas’ glittering Black Tie Dinner.

Today, Miller says that she “supports gay marriage 100 percent,” and she adds that “it will be legal nationwide sooner than later. Young people today don’t give it a second thought and support it fully.”

As the mother of two daughters and one son, Miller knows her stuff. She declined to comment on Rawlings’ decision not to sign the pledge, but it’s a pretty good bet that if Miller were in his shoes today she would have signed that pledge — policy or no policy.

Rawlings made a terrible error in judgment when he refused to sign the pledge along with the mayors of other big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Boston, San Diego, Portland, Denver and the list goes on and on. What’s worse, Texas mayors from Austin, Houston and San Antonio signed the pledge.

If Rawlings had simply signed the pledge, it likely would have been reported by the Dallas media, there would have been a few stones thrown at him by conservative conscientious objectors and then it would have been forgotten. But now, it will continue to rage as a full-scale controversy for an undetermined amount of time.

At this point it seems like the best course of action for Rawlings to take would be to just sign the pledge, seeing as how he is already on record as supporting marriage equality. That action might stir up resentment among conservative constituents, but at least it would put Rawlings on the winning side of the debate.

The fact of the matter is that marriage equality will indeed one day be the law of the land, no matter how much that irks those who would prevent it if they could.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Rawlings ‘personally’ supports marriage

Dallas mayor won’t sign pledge but says gay couples should have the right to wed

Rawlings.Mike

Mike Rawlings

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Although he declined to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage this week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared Thursday, Jan. 19 that he personally supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

Rawlings has elected not to join a group of more than 75 mayors from across the country who’ve signed a pledge circulated by the group Freedom to Marry in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

Under fire from the LGBT community for not signing the pledge, Rawlings explained that since becoming mayor last year, it has been his policy to avoid partisan political issues or social debates that don’t directly impact city government.

“This one obviously was very difficult for me, because I personally believe in the rights of the gay community to marry,” Rawlings said Thursday in an exclusive interview by phone from Washington, where he was still attending the conference. “I think this [same-sex marriage] is way overdue and we need to get on with it, but that’s my personal belief, and when I start to speak on behalf of the city of Dallas … I’ve got to be thoughtful about how I use that office and what I want to impact, and that’s why I decided to stay away from endorsing and signing letters like that.”

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for the LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, responded that if Rawlings really supports marriage equality, he should sign the pledge, which was set to be formally released at a press conference Friday morning, Jan. 20.

“I think he’s doing the same thing that a lot of politicians do, and that’s saying what he needs to say to get the LGBT vote,” Cates said.

After Dallas Voice reported on its website Wednesday night that Rawlings didn’t plan to sign the pledge, Cates launched a Facebook page and an online petition encouraging people to contact the mayor by phone, email and fax, and ask him to change his mind.

Cates said he may also organize a marriage demonstration outside City Hall in February — but was still hoping Rawlings would reverse course and sign the pledge on Friday.

“If he supports us, we need him to put his money where his mouth is,” Cates said. “Otherwise what he’s proving to me, personally, is that he supports us when it’s going to get him votes or money.”

Rawlings.Pride

SIGN OF SUPPORT | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings throws beads while riding on the city float in the 2011 gay Pride parade. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

During his campaign last year, Rawlings said during a candidate forum that he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning both marriage and civil unions. But before Thursday, the closest Rawlings had come to publicly endorsing same-sex marriage was in an interview with Dallas Voice during his campaign, when he said he felt the issue was “irrelevant” and “we should get beyond it and let people do what they want to do.”

Paula Blackmon, Rawlings’ chief of staff, said Thursday afternoon that 50 to 60 people had contacted the mayor’s office about the marriage pledge, with the vast majority saying he should sign it.

“People are communicating with us,” said Blackmon, who compared the public response to outcry over the city’s handling of the Occupy Dallas protests.

Rawlings said in addition to the LGBT community, he was getting pushback from his son and daughter, who he said were raised to reflect his personal beliefs about marriage equality.

“I’m catching a lot of grief in my family right now, just so you know, so I respect how people are feeling about this issue, and I understand it,” he said.

Other mayors who’ve signed the pledge include Michael Bloomberg of New York, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Annise Parker of Houston, Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Thomas Menino of Boston and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for Freedom to Marry, said the full list of mayors who’ve signed the pledge would be revealed during Friday’s press conference to kick off the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

However, Yodashkin told Dallas Voice that as of Thursday, Houston’s Parker and Austin’s Lee Leffingwell were the only ones from Texas who’d signed the pledge. About 20 mayors from Texas, including Fort Worth’s Betsy Price, pre-registered for the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to the website.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas